Five Talking Points on School Vouchers

“How could anyone be for private school vouchers? Aren’t they just a corporate scheme to privatize and defund our public schools?” your mom friend asks as the kids play on the jungle gym.

We’re no stranger to loaded questions like these, and you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up for what you believe in. Next time someone puts you on the spot, consider using these talking points to debunk common school voucher myths and help your friends and family understand the facts of the issue better.


Fact: There’s a strong link between school vouchers and gains in student achievement, attainment and civic participation, especially in the long term. People who say, “There’s no conclusive evidence that vouchers improve the achievement of students,” are either behind on the latest research, or they’re just plain lying. The vast majority of rigorous research—we’re talking more than 60 studies—finds test scores, long-term attainment and civic participation improve for students who use school vouchers and for students who choose to stay in their public schools. That includes things like math and reading proficiency, graduating high school, going to and persisting in college, being less likely to commit crimes and being more likely to volunteer and vote.

In fact, the only meta-analysis ever conducted on the issue found students who won voucher lotteries and used their vouchers saw large positive gains on test scores that equate roughly to 49 more days of learning in math and 28 more days of learning in reading and English.

“But what about the studies I’ve heard show kids’ test scores go down when they use vouchers?” Here’s what you need to know: Most of those studies report changes in students’ test scores after only one year. Longer-term studies of those same programs show English, reading and math scores increase beyond their non-voucher-using peers the longer a student uses a voucher.

This data isn’t just theoretical. Researchers from reputable institutions across the globe have studied school vouchers in practice, and the outlook is good. And the studies proving it just keep coming.

Fact: Voucher-accepting private schools are regulated and held accountable. Though most people don’t know it, private schools adhere to a number of regulations and have done so for decades. Private schools that accept vouchers take on even more accountability measures than private schools that don’t. There’s actually a study that found that, on average, 38 percent of regulations private schools face were created after the enactment of a school voucher program. Those added regulations were primarily related to transparency and reporting.

Opponents of school choice will say private voucher schools aren’t accountable. The facts show they face much of the red tape that public schools do. The real question we should be asking: Is that a good thing? The same people advocating for more regulations in private schools are the same people advocating for fewer regulations in public schools—fighting against high-stakes testing and heavy-handed rules that educators must follow. There’s a cognitive dissonance going on in that argument. If the goal is more autonomy and professional respect for teachers’ expertise, then shouldn’t we all agree that the autonomy private schools have is good and, in fact, public school regulations should look more like private schools’?

At the end of the day, we all want schools—public or private—to educate kids well and in a fiscally responsible way. What’s a more effective form of accountability than the reality that any poorly served student could choose to leave and take their funds with them?

Fact: Vouchers reduce public education costs. Researchers have conducted 52 analyses on the fiscal effects of private school choice programs, including school vouchers; 51 found these programs save taxpayers money or are revenue-neutral. That means it generally costs less or the same amount of money to educate the same number of students in a public education system that embraces school choice programs.

Fact: Vouchers open the door to more educational opportunities for students. Families who can afford it often choose their neighborhood public schools by moving to a residence within their desired school’s assigned district. For many parents, that option is enough. For many others, it isn’t. School vouchers in their many forms give families the means to access the right educational setting for their children, whether that’s another public school, a charter school, a private school, home school or some other innovative solution.

Fact: People like vouchers. Year after year, the public is forced to take a stand for improving their public schools OR for expanding school choice programs like vouchers. It’s time we start allowing the public to say yes to BOTH. Most of the American public supports school choice, according to several different surveys conducted in recent years by Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center (AP-NORC), Education Next (EdNext), Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) and EdChoice. Public opposition to school choice is weak and continues to decrease, especially as more people learn about how school choice works.